DUBLIN — Maintaining confidence in Penn State’s ability to replace All-Big Ten wide receiver Allen Robinson wasn’t too difficult for quarterback Christian Hackenberg this offseason.
“We knew we had playmakers outside, you guys just hadn’t seen them yet,” he said after the Nittany Lions’ 26-24 win against Central Florida Saturday at Croke Park.
The receivers aren’t a preseason camp secret anymore.
Redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton broke Penn State’s single-game freshman receiving yardage record against the Knights by gaining 165 yards on 11 catches in his debut.
Meanwhile, sophomore Geno Lewis contributed a game-high 173 yards on eight catches, the loudest of which was a 79-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Freshman Chris Godwin also got in on the action, adding 13 yards on two catches
In the end, Nittany Lions receivers accounted for 351 yards in helping Hackenberg become the first passer in Penn State history to throw for at least 400 yards in a game — he finished with 454.
“[The performance] makes me feel like people should stop sleeping on us,” Hamilton said. “The whole receiving corps, we have something to prove, and that’s what we’re going to do week in, week out.”
The Fredericksburg, Va., native said the connection with Hackenberg on display Saturday was built weekly over the summer, when he would text the quarterback on Sunday nights to set up throwing sessions for Monday mornings.
That laid the groundwork for a debut Hamilton said even he did not anticipate. He said it wasn’t until he made his first catch, an 8-yard gain on Penn State’s first offensive play, that he felt like he was in a groove that might produce big numbers.
Lewis, who also grabbed a long touchdown in last year’s opener against Syracuse, padded his totals in timely situations.
His touchdown came just a few plays after Central Florida scored to cut its deficit to 13-10.
Then on Penn State’s winning drive, he made three catches for 34 yards, the last of which was an 18-yard gain along the sideline that set up Sam Ficken’s 36-yard clinching field goal.
Afterward, he was most pleased with performing in those important moments.
“That touchdown, that’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” he said.
Now when Penn State lines up against Akron next week, the questions for the receivers won’t be as much about replacing Robinson as they will be about maintaining what they’ve already shown they can do.
And as long as that’s the case, Hackenberg is just as confident in them as he was before his wideouts made noise on a chilly Irish afternoon.
“I think these guys will continue to get better,” he said. “There were mistakes, and we have to fix them to get better. Those guys gave us a great foundation.”
Adam Bittner: firstname.lastname@example.org.